Simon Deng is a Sudanese-American leader and human rights activist. A native of the Shiluk Kingdom in southern Sudan, Deng spent several years as a domestic slave in northern Sudan.
Born into a large family, Deng was raised as a Christian. His village of Tonga was a peaceful farming community, despite frequent raids by the Sudanese army where they burned huts and scattered livestock. “One of the first things I was told as a child — if the Arab men come, just run for your life,” Deng recalls.
When Deng was eight, the Sudanese army swept through his village. Deng was out watching his family’s goats when transport trucks carrying troops suddenly appeared. He and his friends tried to escape, but one was shot in the legs and another in the back. Two blind elders in his village were burned alive in their homes. “I thought I was about to die,” says Deng.
The raid displaced Deng’s family and neighbors, who took refuge in the city of Malkal; dozens crammed into one small house. There, Deng offered to help an Arab man carry some belongings to a ship on the nearby Nile River. But the nine-year-old suddenly found himself sailing away, abducted by the man. Deng was then given to a relative of the kidnapper in the north — as a slave. Deng’s master, Mahmed Ahmed, and his wife Amna refused to let him return home. They showed him a picture of a man with his feet and hands cut off, and warned him: “If you complain, this is what will happen to you.”
Deng became their property, watching their cattle, cleaning their dishes, eating only scraps, sleeping on straw, and enduring regular beatings. His masters called him “abeed” (black slave). Like the majority of families in northern Sudan, Deng’s “owners” were Muslim, and they urged him to convert to Islam and become accepted as their own son. But Deng refused and managed to escape.Deng went on to work as a messenger in the Sudanese parliament and later became a national swimming champion.
Today he is an American citizen and an Associate of the American Anti-Slavery Group. He has addressed audiences across the nation.
In May, 2005 he was invited to speak before the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland.
In March, 2006, Mr. Deng launched the Sudan Freedom Walk, trekking 300 miles from United Nations headquarters in New York City to the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to call for an end to slavery and genocide in Sudan. The walk culminated in a meeting at the White House with President Bush.
In May 2006, Deng embarked on a fact-finding and humanitarian aid mission in southern Sudan and Darfur, where he met with leading southern Sudanese officials, including the President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir.
In 2010 Simon repeated the 300 miles march from New York to Washington, DC to raise awareness about 2011 South Sudan’s historic referendum on independence. The walk culminated with a rally on the Capitol which included a performance by the world-famous Sudanese rap artist Emmanuel Jal.
To make sure Sudan and the referendum remains on the agenda of the US Government, Simon walked barefoot through Congress visiting the offices of each congressperson.
For his tireless work to protect human rights Simon was awarded with 2011 UN Watch Freedom Award.
Slavery and genocide in Sudan
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